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LA GRANDE, Ore. (AP) — Three years into the Academic Momentum program, Eastern Promise officials say 3,550 students are participating in the program across the region, from Wallowa County to Gilliam County.

Academic Momentum is part of Eastern Oregon University's Eastern Promise program, which aims to increase access to college and postsecondary education in the region. A large part of the program works to offer college credit to high school students, but the Academic Momentum portion of the program is directed toward younger students in elementary and middle school.

"We're in practically every school district in Eastern Oregon," said Dan Mielke, executive director of Eastern Promise. "The idea is you need to start early with creating the mindset in students that they're going to do something later on beyond high school."

Academic Momentum is tailored to fifth- through eighth-grades and starts by asking students, parents and educators to sign a compact asserting students will work on academic habits to prepare them for college or vocational training.

That, done at the fifth-grade level, is the beginning of shaping a 10-year Academic Momentum Personal Development Plan to help students pin down their projected educational and career future.

In 2012-13, the Pendleton School District piloted the program. Seventeen more districts signed on last year. Now, 42 schools participate in the program.

Fifth-graders in the program take a visit to EOU to get a feel for postsecondary education. Mielke said this coming spring, when the schools visit the university, they will tie in their visits as the Portland Opera Company comes to town.

"They engage in some kind of activity," Mielke said. In the past, students have heard from the EOU president. Students may see a student-athlete presentation or a lab presentation.

Eastern Promise officials say the quick growth in the Academic Momentum program occurred after the program coordinator, Vickie Read, contacted all the schools to inform them of training opportunities available through the program.

"We're growing more quickly than we expected, as schools are communicating with each other and spreading the excitement," Read said.

During the seventh-grade year, Academic Momentum students visit a partner college, Blue Mountain or Treasure Valley community college.

"This is the first year we'll have seventh-grade visits take place," Mielke said.

During the middle school years of the program, the curriculum ensures students and parents are familiar with the college application process, applying for financial aid and other aspects of higher education.

Those involved with Academic Momentum also say the program aims to break down potential barriers to education for underrepresented populations, including those in poverty. Read said many of the participating school districts have more than 50 percent of their students in free or reduced lunch programs.

"A child from poverty has an even tougher path to college and postsecondary preparation for many reasons," Read said. "Our teachers need to be alert and prepared to help them overcome those additional obstacles."

Last month, educators participated in a poverty-awareness training to provide teachers with a realistic approach to working with students and parents from poverty and research-based strategies to improve student performance.


Information from: The (La Grande) Observer,

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